The Supreme Court on Monday criticised the Union Ministry of Defence over the delay in clearing arrears under the One Rank One Pension scheme to eligible pensioners of the armed forces, PTI reported.

On January 9, the court had directed the Centre to clear the arrears by March 15. This was the second extension granted to the government after it had moved the Supreme Court in June seeking an extension of three months to make the payments.

However, on January 20, the ministry of defence issued a communication saying that the arrears will be paid in four instalments.

Under the One Rank One Pension scheme, a uniform pension is paid to all retired military personnel of the same rank, and the same duration of service, irrespective of when they retire.

On Monday, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud took exception to the ministry’s decision to clear the arrears in installments, reported Live Law.

“We gave you an extension till March 15 for payment of arrears,” Chandrachud asked. “Now in the face of our orders of January 9, how can you issue a communication that you will pay the amount in four equal instalments. Why shouldn’t we proceed against your [defence ministry] secretary?”

The bench, also comprising justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, said that the sanctity of the judicial process has to be maintained.

“Either the secretary withdraws it, or we are going to issue a contempt notice to the Ministry of Defense and that will be very serious,” the bench warned, according to PTI.

It added: “Here you are not fighting a war. Here you are fighting against the rule of law. Set your house in order. This is not the way the Ministry of Defence to go about it.”

Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman, appearing for the Centre, argued that the ministry should be given time to carry out the order.

He also informed the court that out of 22 lakh pensioners, the government has already settled arrears of eight lakh pensioners, amounting to Rs 2,500 crore, according to PTI.

“By March 31, we plan to make a one-time payment to family pensioners,” Venkataraman said. “We are not trying to withhold it. We just want to make the payment in a staggered manner.”

To this, Chief Justice Chandrachud pointed out the court has granted extensions to the ministry on multiple occasions.

“Our judgement is almost a year old,” the chief justice said, according to Live Law. “We gave you extensions. We have extended the time from June 2022 to March 2023. You have paid family pensioners but you also have to pay everyone else.”

The bench also warned that an interest rate of 9% will be imposed if arrears are not cleared by March 15.

The court then ordered the defence ministry secretary to the pension scheme to file a personal affidavit to explain his “unilateral decision”.